7 Tests of Righteous Anger (Part 2): Right Trigger

One of the most important test for evaluating our anger is to ask the question: am I angry about the right things? We must assess all sorts of things about the nature and expression of our anger, but we must first begin by identifying the validity of it based on its trigger. By evaluating the trigger of our anger we can begin to rightly assess its righteousness.

“Is it right for you to be angry…” That is the question that God asked Jonah. The prophet was angry about several things in Jonah chapter 4. Primarily, he was angry that God had shown mercy to the Ninevites, whom Jonah deemed unworthy of pardon. He was also angry, however, over a plant that had sprung up overnight and just as suddenly withered away. Each time God asks the prophet, “Is it right for you to be angry.” In both cases the reader is to infer the answer: it isn’t right. If anger itself is not a wrong emotion, we can still be wrong in our anger.

Anger is a moral response that declares something is wrong! Something is wrong and it matters! We become angry when the things we love are attacked, threatened, or harmed in some way. So, when our children are being bullied at school we are rightly angry about this. When someone breaks into our home we are understandably angry. We are understandably angry about many important things, like abortion, terrorism, assault, and injustice. We cry out, like the Prophet for justice in the land: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease? (Jer. 12:1). It is right, then, in some circumstances to be angry.

Yet, if we are honest, these issues are not the primary triggers for our anger. We become angry when our own little agenda’s are threatened or impeded. We become angry when our spouse or children interrupt our plans for the day. We become angry when someone doesn’t show us the respect we believe we deserve. We become angry when someone else succeeds and we do not. We become angry when we have to wait longer than we want, make a sacrifice for someone else, or put up with “stupid” people. Our anger, in other words, is often triggered by the wrong things. Like Jonah, we are angry when we should not be.

We must evaluate the triggers that elicit our anger. What frequently causes you to become angry? When you become angry can you put your finger on the specific reason? Does that reason line-up with what God says matters? Brad Hambrick notes the difference between our common reasons for anger and the righteous reasons. He says:

Too often our anger is triggered by personal preference or mere selfishness. In order to be good or right, anger must be in agreement with God about the nature of what it condemns. (Overcoming Anger, 14)

So, as we explore the pattern of anger in our own lives we want to pause and consider the trigger. Am I angry about what angers God? Does my moral outrage identify actual immorality or merely selfish desires? Am I trying to justify selfish demands/expectations as though they were spiritually significant? Am I angry about the right things?

This is not the only evaluative marker. As we will see, I may be angry about the right things but still be wrong in my anger. Each of the seven tests work cumulatively to make the case for anger’s righteousness. If, however, we don’t start with this foundational marker we will immediately start off on the wrong foot. We can be angry about the right things and still have a sinful anger, but we can never be angry about the wrong things and have a righteous anger. Our anger must start with the right trigger!

When you become angry evaluate yourself. Ask, “Why am I angry?” Be honest about your answer and assess your motives as carefully as you can. Are you angry about the right things? If not, then repent and ask God to help you think differently about the issue that is upsetting. “Is it right for you to be angry?” That is the question God asks Jonah, and it’s the question He would ask each of us when we become upset. You should ask this same question of yourself too.

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